Ball joints

This is a classic holiday. My '96 Buick is in the shop awaiting a new $865 fuel pump. The Buick should probably be on its way to the auto smasher, but I received a nice bumper sticker for Christmas. Seemed like a good reason to repair it yet again:


My parents always seemed to celebrate holidays and anniversaries with expensive automotive repairs when I was a kid. So many years of snow tires for Christmas! I didn't even understand the humor the year they gave each other ball joints for their wedding anniversary. Mom and Dad certainly gave each other the steering and suspension for their lives.

It seems fitting to agonize over what to discard, and what to fix on the last day of the year. Rust adds a certain character to people and vehicles. The deteriorating exterior of the Buick hides the frequently expensive improvements to the operating mechanism. That's something to keep in mind when I look in the mirror. Whom do I owe, and whom do I credit for these improvements in the big scheme beyond credit card plastic?

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

A Lunch Bunch New Year's Eve

I learned shortly before they arrived that I was hosting a Lunch Bunch reunion video, games, and blender margaritas party. It's a way more crazy New Year's Eve than I planned, but possibly just what I needed. The PHSH Class of 2005 is ushering in '08 around the table where they used to scarf down a hot lunch on Fridays while scribbling out their French homework. The friendgirls and card games have changed, along with the vehicles. The guys all take time to chat with me about their semesters abroad, changes of majors, and newspaper internships. They make sure to put cans in the recycling and napkins in the trash. Best of all, they give me hope for the future of our nation and planet!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder



Just starting a stitching project on a fabric background composed of overlapping white and brown burlap, gray satin, hand-dyed and discharged pieces of cotton, and a delicate floral former chiffon scarf. I'll post progress reports on my Mama Collages blog.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


His boy Elroy

Got a big bag of Jetson spacemobiles ready to zip off to Spacely Sprockets! My dear Loofah Goat Lady (LGL) has saved up a bunch of Desert Glory/Nature Sweet cherry tomato containers for my art classes.

I always try to avert my eyes from the cherry tomato section of produce in my Albertsons grocery store, because I might drift off into a long fantasy, especially after a day with the preschoolers. The containers are so obviously the creation of a person who watched lots of Jetsons cartoons back in the Sixties and never recovered.

Not having a George Jetson finger puppet in my teaching aids drawer, I present a wind-up penguin to ride in the spacemobile. The penguin is glad to not be a Peep. Those eerie supersweet botox Easter chicks could ride in spacemobiles to their date with the microwave, or to Disneyland for a spin on the classic Mad Hatter's Tea Party ride of giant cups and saucers.

In a more Seventies frame of mind, the tomato containers remind me of restaurant all-you-can-eat salad bar "sneeze guards". The lids would make fine Jello brain molds for Igor's Young Frankenstein Ab Normal scene.

What will my students do with their tomato spacemobiles? It may take a few months before we know!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Hearing voices

In my rundown Albertsons grocery store, in the soup aisle, I heard a voice. A most emphatic and energetic voice telling me how I could have the most fabulous holiday ever. I looked around, but there was nobody but me and my creaking cart. Was I receiving transistor radio broadcasts in my braces? Nope, no braces. Was it an archangel finally reaching down to make me pay for never really reading all of Paradise Lost in twelfth grade? Was it the Mother Ship informing me I was about to be beamed up?

Wait. I kinda recognize the voice. It's a woman--I alway knew God had to be a woman! No, wait. It's Rachael Ray! Oh my gosh (OMG). Rachael Ray in my ratty Albertsons giving me culinary peptalks activated by motion detectors. She sending me subliminal foodie cult messages. Next thing you know, I'm buying shredded parmesan, brie, EVOO, and balsamic vinegar instead of Nature Valley granola bars, Rotel Original, and grated cheddar.

My sons will return from their dad's house soon. They will smell the roasting pork tenderloin stuffed with marinaded chicken breasts, fresh sage, mushrooms and garlic, rolled in rosemary and fresh ground black pepper. (It is cooking under two heavy cast iron skillets which is as close as I could get to Rachael's foil-wrapped bricks.) They will marvel at the fresh cranberry clementine relish, the cilantro-seasoned stuffing, and the Italian asparagus/artichoke salad. The fresh cranberry clementine relish will be the real clue that their mother has been kidnapped by extraterrestrials. They know that I'm a firm believer in serving Ocean Spray cranberry jelly straight out of the can just the way God in Her Infinite Wisdom intended. And why can't they smell the sauerkraut the minute they walk in???

"Who is this person?," they'll demand. "What have you done with our mother?"

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Hanging ornaments

The class rabbit, Norton, appreciates his Christmas ornament made of veggies.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


1971 Yearbook

Sorely lacking in holiday spirit, I listened to my son tell of his Goodwill quest for a really ugly Christmas sweater to wear to a campus party. I haven't wanted to decorate the tree, fuss with giftwrap, or do anything else to acknowledge the holiday season. Maybe a trip to the land of ugly sweaters was what I needed to get in the spirit. Why isn't there an annual tv special of silly Seventies holiday attire?

The first winter of my parttime job serving up cream of wheat in the hospital kitchen, the dishwasher boys were wearing platform shoes, "baggies" high-waisted, wide-leg pants with extreme cuffs, and reindeer ski sweaters. These were the guys we wanted to cruise alongside through McDonalds, accompany to a movie, or, GASP, go bowling. Why were perfectly normal Nebraska corn-fed beef boys wearing Elton John shoes???

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Males asking directions?

Two preschoolers were seated at the Lego table building a house for Duplo dinosaurs. The girl announced, "I'm going to bed now," and moved her dinosaur into a red and yellow block room with a color-coordinated bedroom set. The boy responded, "Um, Honey, where's the garage?"

The little girl did not say, "Darling, you've been trying to change tv channels with the garage door opener for the last ten minutes. Follow the sound of the door going up and down!"
Where ya gonna park that thing???

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Get my goat

This holiday season I feel honored to know that a gift has been made to Heifer International in my name. A family in need will receive a goat to help them economically and nutritionally. That family will agree to give one offspring of their gift goat to another family in need. In this season of giving and shepherding, "my" goat makes me happy.

E. F. Schumacher's book, Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered influenced my thinking more than most books I read back in college. The concept of human-scale economics and technology to build sustainable communities while respecting the environment seems as important now as then, and maybe more.
So many of the systems controlling our lives lack any relation to human-scale. We have education systems where children don't matter except as they produce acceptable test results. Ask anyone who has spent time dealing with healthcare and health insurance lately, and they'll tell you they felt like the patient didn't matter. Billions and gazillions of dollars are being spent on wars where the people who should matter need clean water, adequate shelter, and the peace and stability to raise their goats and crops.

High on a hill was a lonely goatherd pondering how we can change the systems, and bring them back to human-scale, to change the focus so people matter. How can one person make a difference? What can be the impact of one goat?

In my year working with a small group of preschoolers, I hope that I have shared some moments that will impact their relationships with each other and with the environment. Those are big words to say that we held hands and watched a spider spin a web together. And we came back the next day and the next to check on the spider and its web.

On a different note, one might ponder the impact of the goat on so many words and phrases in our language. Give yourself the holiday treat of a moment in the Online Etymology Dictionary goat department!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Frosty's New Years Eve party

You are invited to the hottest cold party to usher in 2008. Frosty the Snowman and all his friends will be doing the Limbo, the Bump, the Twist, the Frug, the Moonwalk, the Pony, the "White Man's Overbite"*, and some New York City Music Hall Rockettes and Kilgore Rangerette numbers later in the evening.

Take the tarp off that lighted Bicentennial disco dance floor. Do you know how to party??? Can you spell D-o-r-i-t-o-s? Can you spell In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida? Can you spell chocolate-frosted sprinkle donuts??

Frosty and friends are so Jumbo Tron! They've got Velveeta, refried beans, and original Ro-tel melting together in the Harvest Gold crockpot. They are having snowball fights out in the front yard.

The elementary art students took the concept of a snowman's party and ran with wonderful results. Some of Frosty's guests may melt just past midnight. We liked learning that Dean Koontz wrote a story about where snowmen go when they melt that is included in his THE PAPER DOORWAY: Funny Verse and Nothing Worse.

My students weren't contemplating "the white man's overbite." Most of them are missing so many teeth they can't bite an apple. Still, disco snowmen brought to mind Billy Crystal's line from "When Harry Met Sally."

*Harry : You meet someone, you have the safe lunch, you decide to like each other enough to move on to dinner. You go dancing, you do the white man's overbite; go back to her place, you have sex, and the minute you finish, you know what goes through your mind?"How long do I have to lie here and hold her before I can go home?""Is 30 seconds enough?"
Sally : That's what you're thinking? Is that true?
Harry : Sure. All men think that. How long do you like to be held afterwards? All night, right? That's the problem. Somewhere between 30 seconds and all night is your problem.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Three Little Ducks SRO

In a simpler time with fewer electronic screens, our handheld diversions were more likely to be the buttons in our mother's sewing basket, or the pins and earrings in her jewelry box. Playing in Mom's jewelry box was a rare treat, usually connected with her preparations for an evening with the bridge club.

A jewelry box is like a theater, but the audience is the star attraction. Open the jewelry box, and the tiers of burgundy velvet seating appear with little compartments, sections, aisles, rows, even a loge and an orchestra pit. As children, we would spread the necklaces and bracelets out on the bedspread around where we had set the jewelry box. The Sixties costume beads were the footlights around the stage. Mom's wild red glazed pin and earrings were the Spanish "Chocolat" dancers of "The Nutcracker". The duck pins danced "Peter and the Wolf", and ended up quacking in the wolf's stomach about the time Mom served dessert to the bridge club.

The duck pins will be played by the oboes!

Three little ducks that I once knew,

Fat one, skinny one, fair one, too.

But the one little duck with the feather on his back,

He ruled the others with his Quack Quack Quack.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Naughty or Nice? Clamps, but no Vise!

Santa's workshop must be a place of furious industry and creativity this time of year. I love the idea of making gifts while keeping the endeavor a surprise. While I never caught sight of any elves in the basement, I loved "working" with my dad on his "projects" as a preschooler.

The folks who make scents, candles, and potpourri for the Christmas season are missing the smells for Santa's basement workshop:



Old, dried-out newspaper


Dryer lint


Dial Soap bars

Varnish and shellac


Aging corrugated cardboard

"Gunk" orange hand-cleaner

Several of my little students are ready to learn blended consonant sounds. "Clamp" is a strange vocabulary word for them, so I took every clamp I could find in junk drawers, tool boxes, and art supplies to school. We added day-glo bright squeeze mini-clamps, some plywood and masonite scraps, and a plastic construction worker hat to create a very popular classroom work center. Maybe I'm not the only kid who thinks C-clamps are C-cool! The kids are knocking each other out of the way like Tonya Harding's goons for the chance to twirl the gizmo on the C-clamp!

Not brave enough to do preschool sawing at a mitre box next, but Dad's workshop vise and mitre box empowered my outlook on life. Dad let me pound nails into a bar of Dial soap "to build a better mousetrap" on our evenings in the basement. My mom must have been washing dishes and caring for my younger siblings while Dad and I spent quality time sorting nuts and bolts. Perhaps my favorite mystery was the long row of Gerber baby food jars hanging by their lids from a shelf on the workshop pegboard.

"If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbour," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "tho' he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door." And where is Waldo now?

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


The two seasons of the year

My little students are busy learning about the four seasons with puzzles, a set of rubber stamps of a tree through the year, songs, and stories. Out in the garden, they are picking the last green tomatoes. We are all amazed that our favorite spider is still living on the gourd vines on the other side of the fence. Does it have a warm ski chalet that we can't see?

When I go home from school to the condo, my year has only two seasons. For many months it took an NFL linebacker to open the front door. Suddenly, the front door doesn't stay closed unless it is locked, as I discovered when I took my recyclables out to the cart.

The older students are in the middle of an art project about warm and cool colors. We are imagining Frosty the Snowman's New Year's Eve party. What happens when all the snowdudes and snowdudettes start eating nachos with jalapenos, dancing to loud music under that flashy disco ball, and doing over-the-top touchdown endzone celebrations? What about all those over-stimulated snowkiddies chasing each other around the dried-out Christmas tree, bopping each other over the head with their twelve-inch talking Jesus dolls (or, in my oft-regretted past, the plastic toy guitar)?

Brrrrrr. Sisssss! I'm envisioning a new game of Sims Snowmen...

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


Lightbulb joke

How many emails does it take to run a marathon?

I can only begin to fathom the number of emails, telephone calls, text messages, faxes, and old-fashioned face-to-face meetings it takes to organize a marathon race like Sunday's Wellstone's Dallas White Rock Marathon. As a tiny cog in the big wheel doing the advance organization for one aid station, I have amassed 330 emails in my "Running " file. Know I discarded many messages in the past month or so, but didn't have time to sift the rest of the keepers from the ones that can be deleted.

For every runner out hitting the road for training miles at five a.m. there's likely a race volunteer hitting the send button on an email at five a.m. to make the race happen!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


What Would Jesus Laminate?

I made two expeditions into unfamiliar territory this week in the pursuit of twenty-five cents per foot self-serve laminating. Laminating is a soul-searching effort for me, as I have to weigh the non-recyclable and non-biodegradable effect on paper against the sturdiness, weather-readiness, and preservation of the art or teaching items being laminated. Plus, I have to go to the friendly neighborhood Christian bookstore, home-schooling supply center, and vacation Bible school headquarters to get the best do-it-yourself laminating price.

It's a busy time at the bookstore. The woman ahead of me in the check-out line had her entire cart filled with identical ceramic nativity scenes that looked like Fred Flintstone's house spray-painted with gold glitter paint. The woman ahead of her wanted to use expired limit-one-per-customer coupons to buy three soft Christian rock music cds.

The three kids behind me in line were whining and badgering their mother because she had only said they could LOOK at the new "Veggie Tales" video, not that they would BUY it. Down the aisle another family values drama was being performed about a boy's desire for a Bibleman laser sword. I thought it was just kids in Target who threw tantrums over GI Joe, Star Wars, and Disney Princess videos. When my sons acted like that we knew it was time to read The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmes.

Bible action figures are hot toys. Who wouldn't want the Almighty Heroes action set? The characters have the physique of the Incredible Hulk, but cuter tunics and slingshots. I'm sure they can be entwined through the chainlink baseball backstop the same way my youngest posed his GI Joes. They can be buried in the playground gravel and lost just as easily as a Ninja Turtle.

We agonize as parents over the toys we buy and media influences on our children. If we let our children play with toy guns, are we raising the schoolshooters and mallshooters of the next decade? If we give our children plastic action figures with Bible verses, will they become the peacemakers, the philosophers, the charitable and ethical leaders we desperately need? If our daughters dress Queen Esther and Deborah the Warrior dolls in their fashion sets with they live with more purity and purpose than if they played with Bratz and Barbie dolls? If our son prefers dressing Joseph in his amazing coat to putting on the Full (silver plastic) Armor of God playset, will he become gay? Is there really any difference between wearing a Power Rangers costume trick-or-treating, or wearing a Samson Super-Muscles costume to the Sunday School fall harvest carnival?

I don't know. My sons are grown now. They are already teacher, administrator, photographer, law student, volunteer, writer, artist, runner, chef, and traveler. They will work in many other fields in their lifetimes. They have a core set of values guiding their relations with others, a respect for nature, an inner motivation, an appreciation of art and the lessons of history, and they are kind to their mommy.

So what toys do they insist that I never give or throw away? The "good wood rifles" and the Legos. The toys of imagination, role-playing, empowerment, and construction--and of precious memories.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


My Inner Milliner

There's a hat-maker deep inside me hollering to get out, particularly today after I've seen the Dallas Opera's "Merry Widow". What fun someone at the San Franscisco Opera's costume shop had making all the wonderful hats for this production!

The hats are giant feathery confections whipped up in black and white, lovely blues, and lastly a splendid range of reds. They bring to mind Audrey Hepburn on Ascot Opening Day, and Carol Channing in "Hello, Dolly".

Hat-making appeals to me as an individual textile sculptural design experiment. It revels in curves, layers, textures, opacities, embellishments, and eccentricities. It's over the top in more ways than one. Plus, it's a fabulous art project for young students I've forgotten to include in recent semesters.

"The Merry Widow" was composed a hundred or so years ago by Franz Lehar (and someday a hundred years from now I'll learn how to add the proper accent marks to his name). That's about the same time my young great-aunties in Northeast Nebraska modeled these non-Parisian millinery creations of their mother.

My great-auntie Ada, on the right, later had her own millinery shop on Main Street in Pierce, Nebraska. This was long, long before I knew her. I have only one real memory of her, but it is very vivid. Auntie Ada is standing by a bed of tall flowers, calmly waiting for the flitting butterflies to become still enough for her to pick them up by their folded wings with her fingers.

A hat, with all of its sculptural qualities, should still have that sense of a fragile, quivering butterfly held gently in the artist's fingers and being placed into the creation yet wanting to fly free.

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


The Red Book of Birds of America

One of the most prized possessions in my extended family is a little and incomplete set of books far from mint condition published by Whitman in MCMLIV. Two generations have learned their birds at an early age by paging through these little guides just right for a child's hands. Two generations have been mesmerized by the poetry in a list of bird names when read aloud.

The Red Book of Birds of America is our favorite in what was originally a set of four tiny books. My thirteen year old nephew hated to part with this precious token of his childhood long enough for me to scan some of the loose pages. I understand completely.

My oldest son with his precocious auditory memory learned the duck names in order by age two, and was particularly fond of the "blue winged teal".

The Yellow Book of Birds of America vanished or crumbled before my kids were born. The Green, Blue, and Red books are held together with clear Contac paper. Some child teethed on the upper page corners of the Blue book with its "Jays, Larks, Orioles, Grackles, Finches, Sparrows, Grosbeaks, Blackbirds, Buntings, etc." The lower corners of the red-winged blackbird and the meadowlark show gnaw marks, too.

The Green book was the best at bedtime. The pages of the preface have been decorated with drawings of houses and apartment buildings in blue and purple crayon. A child has done some pencil arithmetic there, too.

In your insomnia consider:

Scarlet Tanager
Western Tanager
Summer Tanager
Cedar Waxwing
Bohemian Waxwing
Golden-Crowned Kinglet
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
Red-Eyed Vireo
Blue-Headed Vireo
Yellow-Throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Black and White Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Blue-Winged Warbler
Golden-Winged Warbler
Black-Poll Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Orange-Crowned Warbler
Parula Warbler

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Long hair, very cute, and dangerous

No, this isn't about teenage girlfriends! It's about the darling caterpillar we found near a big oak tree. We coaxed it into a bug box, but couldn't identify it that night. It was quite distinctive with its orange fauxhawk Mohawk hairstyle, orange curled tail, and baby sloth face.

Not knowing what it needed to eat, we couldn't keep it until it formed a cocoon, so we released it at the foot of the oak tree. It curled into a cute, cuddly ball.

We kept a polite distance, and let it uncurl when it was ready. Off it went climbing the tree, with us watching until we could no longer see it moving camouflaged against the bark and about twenty feet high.

Thankfully, no one ever petted our cutie. Last night I finally had a chance to identify it. It is one of the most poisonous of stinging caterpillars, so we were very lucky that no one got hurt!

The "asp" or puss caterpillar of the southern flannel moth, Megalopyge opercularis, is considered the most dangerous caterpillar in the U.S. The skin irritation can last from one hour to five days! It is found from Maryland to Mexico across the Southeast U.S. "Asp" is its Texas nickname, and the
Texas A&M Cooperative Extension field guide makes clear that it is more snake than puddy-tat. If, like me, you didn't even know there was such a thing as a stinging caterpillar, you'll be interested in the eMedicine information. As if we didn't have enough to worry about, there can be epidemics caused by airborne caterpillar hair dispersion! The North American Moth Photographers Group has excellent photos of the entire life cycle of the southern flannel moth.

And if one of them starts calling and text messaging your teenage son, be afraid. Be very afraid!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder


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